Have fun when you can. Think all the time.

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September 30, 2010

Alternative Spring Break: El Salvador
My Two Cents

The Alternative Spring break offers students an opportunity to work with a non-governmental organization (NGO) in El Salvador over reading week, and travel with a purpose. This program is entering its third year, and I have been lucky enough to travel with the group twice, first as a participant, and again as a student mentor. Projects are community initiated and facilitated by the partnership between the NGO, the UofM, and the sustainability of the project is taken into consideration. Working side-by-side, community members determine the most efficient and effective way to utilize the natural environment and skills of everyone working on the project. Upon arrival, students pull on their work boots, throw on some gloves and pick up a shovel.

However the focus of this program is on sharing information, experiences, and compassion; about learning from each other, and from yourself; about getting an introduction to development, to non-governmental organizations, and a new culture, NOT just on creating something tangible that will remain for decades (although that is one component).

Being able to participate in this program in two very different capacities, and return to the community a year after the UofM’s initial visit has been a tremendous opportunity that I am very lucky to have been able to experience. An often understated part of this program is the individual impact participation can have. To the individuals who have participated, the Facebook profile picture isn’t of a foreigner and a local but rather of two new friends. The school supplies collected by elementary school students in Canada who have never met their Southern recipients, doesn’t show the attempt of two people from two very different places accepting each other for who they are with empathy and compassion.

Upon return students share photos and stories with their friends and family exposing them to a reality they might be unaware of and in turn inspiring them to get involved (in some capacity or another). However, pictures [see picture above] don’t show how a two-week experience can lead to a lifetime of engagement and participation. I look back over the emails, the Facebook messages, and think back to all the long distance phone calls I have received from my new El Salvadorian friends over the last two years, and am still baffled that my brief time in El Salvador has transpired into friendships that will last a lot longer than my time spent in country.

The Alternative Spring Break program has a five year plan that began last year with the initial preparation of a two and a half acre plot of land alongside members of an agrarian cooperative with future plans to develop an education centre, further organic development as well as marketing strategies which will hopefully be accomplished through the joint collaboration of the University of Manitoba and the Community Based Organization (CBO) and NGO based in El Salvador.

Experiences that engage and inspire while creating interest are a fundamental way to generate and spread awareness, and are crucial to encourage global citizenship. When people are inspired they do great things and it’s important to remain ambitious. To continue to change how much you’re willing to push the envelope and to always challenge the status quo—as cliché as that is, and to demand more from yourself, and from those around you.

-Delaney C.

September 28, 2010

Juticalpa: The Texas of Honduras

**Please mind the typos on this one**

YEY! It only took me 10 min today to figure out how to make this computer work for me! So....I have been in Juticalpa for 3 full days now. On Thursday I headed to Catacamus (4 hours out of Tegucicalpa) for a inter-regional exchange of information for environmental organizations in the area at the National University of Agriculture. Within twenty min of leaving the office it started to pour. By the to,e we reached the outskirts of the city (about a half hour of rain) it was crazy. The road was completely submerged in places, so we just drove through hoping that: 1) we could go fast enough that you wont get stuck and 2) there is still something left under the water so you can make it through and impromptu water falls appeared hurling mass amounts of water off the cliffs and onto the highway. It was absolutely crazy to see and I cant even imagine living in some of the homes we passed along the way...there is no way they are able to hold their own against such a torrential assault. And then....an hour later, the rain stopped and the sun came out...just crazy.

On this four and a half hour drive I also had the opportunity to experience my first police check stop...which was pretty terrifying considering I wasn't too sure what was going on or what they wanted most of the time...make that the entire time. It ended up well and we were on our way.

The conference was very interesting,although I´m not sure I understood enough to fully appreciate the knowledge and passion of the participants and presenters I did my best to learn new words and absorb what I could. I got to meet some of the people I will be working with in Salama from MAO, as well as people from other organizations that are working on the same issues, and find out a little bit more about the challenges and difficulties they are currently facing, as well as what successes they have had in the past. Coincidentally MAO, who I will be working with, focuses mainly on the illegal exploitation of trees in Olancho and the environmental degradation that occurs as a result. Thanks to my time spent in BC treep-planting I had a little bit to share on Canada´s own forestry regulations, and some of the associated risks and challenges that we are currently facing. Thanks to Sandra´s pushing, when it was my groups turn to present I gave a short synopsis of what is happening with the pine beetle as a consequence to planting a monoculture of trees in hopes to gain the biggest profit. It wasn't a long presentation by any means, and I think I blacked out half way through it, but I think everyone appreciate my miserable attempt to speak Spanish and share information...even though Sandra had to explain what I was trying to say after I finished so everyone could understand.

Our last night in Catacamus we came back to the hotel to a full blown party...and oddly enough the Black Eyed Pea´s Tonight´s gonna be a good night on repeat. It was a girls Quinceañera...which is a huge celebration in Latin Cultures for the 15th birthday. It was pretty cool to see, although Sandra was grumpy because the music was blaring until 1 in the morning and she couldn't sleep.

Sunday morning we ate breakfast at the hotel and then Sandra, Hermilo and I drove to Juticalpa. They took me to the HUGE office that they thought I would be able to live in, however there is some regulation in FLM policy that prohibits that so that´s no longer an option, and then they dropped me off at a hotel...which is where it was not so great to have an over active imagination. Realizing that I was totally alone and can barley speak Spanish sent me over the edge for about 2 hours...then I calmed myself down and decided that going for a walk would be a great idea and when I returned unharmed my imagination could take a break and I would feel much more comfortable. This is exactly what happened. Questioning the cleanliness of my bedsheets led me to sleep clothed, on top of my fleece that I am very glad I decided to bring (although it was probably just my imagination playing tricks on me..and what can I really expect for 250Ls a night, which is like $13CDN). On Monday I ventured to the streets again and bought some bedsheets to put over top...no luck on finding a pillow but that can wait until I am more settled and find a place to live.

While trying to find someone to teach/tutor me in Spanish I got connected with someone living in Juticalpa from the Peace Corps. Last night to avoid going crazy in my hotel room watching more Spanish television after it gets too dark to wander around getting lost and un-lost in the winding streets i met up with him and my potential tutor in central park. It was great to talk to some people, and they filled me in on some background history of Juticalpa and the projects he had worked on over the last two years he has been here. Apparently Juticalpa is like the Wild Wild West...the Texas of Honduras. Everyone carries a gun, and everyone is a little trigger happy. There is tons of machismo which explains all the comments that, gratefully, I don't understand whenever I walk around. And there is tons of very well formed and structured laws.....but little to no reinforcement. As long as I don't start selling drugs in someone else´s turf, steal someones women, or cut someone off while driving I should be okay...and don't worry, I don't plan on doing any of those things. After talking in the park the tree of us went back to his apartment, which was cool to see...and gave me a fiscal reference as to what I could expect for what price. He also mentioned he might be able to set me up with his host family that he stayed with at the beginning...which is cool, and the option I am leaning towards because I think it will help the most with picking up Spanish. Then he walked me home, which I was pretty grateful for because: 1) I would have without a doubt gotten lost 2) I still don't feel confident that I could get myself out of trouble if I find myself in it and 3) the city is an entirely different beast at night.

There isn't a lot to do while in limbo (waiting for Jose Luis to get back to Juticalpa, so we can go to work, and living in the hotel) and I have run out of little things to buy that give me an excuse to take a separate trip around town fore each thing...but I spent most of today trying to practice my Spanish, watched T.V. to pick up some slang, wandered around the streets, and started reading "The Great Gatsby" in central park. I think tonight I will call up Oscar and hopefully convince him to help me practice Spanish...or set up a day for the future.

Con Esperanza y Amor
Delaney C.

September 22, 2010

Y eso es lo que yo llamaría un éxito
And that's what I would call a success!

So today was a great day, and a very successful one at that. I managed to go to the mall alone, purchase a bigger Spanish-English dictionary (as mine was not sufficient for these environmental and political terms I seem to be needing), credit for my little cellular phone that Sandra and I picked up yesterday (I just need to figure out how to make international calls now! and Kim its way nicer than my Canadian one...here's to hoping I don't destroy the keys on this one too), some hair clips to hold back the ridiculous mess growing out of my head (why o why did I not chop of a substantial amount of this thick mane of mine before I left Canada?), some sunglasses, and dinner...and I think I only got ripped off once! Coincidentally the 'accessories' place I got the hair clips and sunglasses from could have easily taken an extra 40L of mine due to a little mix up, but she didnt.

Who I may/may not have been ripped off from (verdict is still out) was the lady I purchased my Subway dinner from. I know, I know, I usually am not a fan of getting North American food in places that are not North America however Sandra recommended it, I have never done it before, and heck I figured I will be here long enough to get all of the typical Honduran food I could ever want, so might as well dig in...I was at the mall after all. While I was eating it I realized I probably was doing a couple things I really shouldn't have....eating vegetables washed with questionable water? sitting alone in a mall in Honduras? about to take a cab back to my hotel..alone? All of these things I was warned not to do, and here I am, my second day on the job, just throwing caution to the wind...haha well not so much.

I have adopted a food mantra here, and I have already used it a couple of times...when put in questionable food related situations I ask myself..."What would Clair-o do?" And then usually I dig right in...it hasn't steered me wrong yet. Mind you I have only been here a few days, but I have eaten very very questionable subway, drank some questionable water, and I had some delicious street Pupusas for dinner yesterday and I most definitely put that pickled stuff on top that you should definitely not...but heck it tastes that much more delicious. So far so good...Im hoping my gullet of steel will continue to pull through for me...and if she does(with only minor issues of course), I have my father and his questionable immigrant cooking and foods safety styles to thank? Moral of the story is that was my first, and will likely be my last Honduran Subway experience...if I have any choice in the matter anyways.

I was pretty proud of myself, managing to get all the things I needed to get done all by myself :) I walked around the mall scouting out stores and asked the right questions in my very broken very apologetic Spanish. I had more trouble in the TIGO store buying phone credit...maybe because of the jargon associated with cell phones? But it was also a success, which was good because I had to use my phone about a half hour later.

In the 'accessories' store I decided to pick up a pair of sunglasses because I left mine at home. This women started chatting me up, she seemed very happy to practice her English (which was pretty comparable to my Spanish), and I was happy to practice my Spanish with someone who was a bit more sympathetic. We tried on sunglasses and talked, she told me I had a beautiful name (which I have gotten a lot so far...thanks Mom and Dad!), and possibly by coincidence while we were talking she switched her choice of sunglasses (after trying on about 15 of the same style) to the exact pair that I had decided to put on. Then she and I got in line at the same time...with the same sunglasses. Now I don't want to read too much into this, but it seems pretty coincidental and makes me think...why do people like us gringos so much? Im really not that cool...not even a little bit. In fact I think its the opposite haha. O well, it was an interesting observation and an enjoyable conversation to say the least.

Taxis, taxis, taxis. Every taxi I take, even if its the same distance, is a different price. EXCEPT for George, who is my new 'taxi buddy'. He drives me to work in the morning and gave me his number for "anytime day or night" as he told me. I enjoy driving with him and this morning we had a good talk...or as good as my chats in Spanish get. He warned me about the white cabs with the yellow. They are no good. Im gonna trust him on that one. Cabs are one of the things that frighten me. I have no idea where i am going, or what's right or wrong. I have no idea how much it should cost, and I don't know enough Spanish to get myself out of any trouble if I find myself in trouble. It is good to know that there are people looking out for me, and Sandra has told me which cabs to look out for as well. When leaving the mall there are certain cabs that are safe and have permission to be in the mall gates. They are okay to take, however today Sandra got me to call her so she could talk to the taxi driver before I got in...she made sure to get his cabs number, and I think she got me a deal because it was cheaper than yesterday.

My Spanish is coming along but that's not saying a whole lot. I translated a ton of stuff today, still have to get a bit more done before dinner, but I am practicing and coming to terms with sounding like a fool and skirting around words that I dont know by using an additional eight to explain myself. Also getting a handle on the development and environment terms that Intro Spanish did not cover. I am very excited to be getting out of the city tomorrow and head to Catacamus (?) for this workshop/conference...and as a bonus Sandra is coming, so I will have a couple more days with some help, which will defiantly be useful as I am assuming this workshop will be completely overwhelming and intense for my brain. I also think being out of the city will be good for learning. And I did not pack for the city haha. Everyone dresses very very nicely, and I packed for a more conservative rural setting so I pretty much not only stick out because I am 6 ft tall, but I also am very under dressed. I think I'll be less likely to get into trouble out in the country, and Ill be able to see more (beyond skyscrapers, malls and hotels anyways) And! I'll get to begin getting into a routine, which is also pretty sweet.

Con Esperanza y Amor
Delaney C.
Where this time C stands for 'Cristina' which is a lot easier to pronounce :)

September 21, 2010

El Saber No Ocupa Lugar
You Can Never Know Too Much

!Hola! from Honduras. After a day and a half airport filled journey, of course having more trouble getting into the States for my transit than actually into Honduras, I have arrived safe and sound. Sandra and Hermilio picked me up at the airport and dropped me off at my Hotel to get lunch, unpack and shower. They picked me up, half an hour late due to the torrential rainstorm that hit as I was eating lunch at a nearby restaurant down the street. During this 'storm' several trees became uprooted, and part of the futbol stadium wall had come down crushing several cars, and at least one person. Sandra explained that because there are no laws regulating building standards, the poor opt for the cheapest option, which unfortunately don't always stand up to this weather....it's something to think about in my upcoming months in Honduras. I got to meet all the LWF staff in the Tegucigalpa office, and then Hermilio dropped me back off at the hotel. I watched a bit of Spanish television to try and get some practice in, but I was so exhausted (apparently the Houston airport floor did not leave me well rested) and I fell asleep just after 6:30.

Today was my first day at work...in my very own office! Hermilio and Sandra gave me several documents to look over, on the LWF, on their work in Honduras, and MAO (the NGO that I will be working closely with in Olancho when I head out of Tegucigalpa). I spent all day trying to translate the documents I could and work on my Spanish, which I am realizing, is no where near good enough. Everyone talks too fast for my poor little brain to comprehend. My Spanish is already better than yesterday, so here's to hoping tomorrow I will be better than I was today.

I will stay in Tegucigalpa until Thursday when I will travel to a conference with someone from LWF, on Environmental issues (which I am told will be my area of focus). This is a little bit new to me, but I am pretty adaptable and am sure I can learn quickly...I am very nervous about my Spanish though, and leaving the capital, where Sandra speaks English and has been helping me out tremendously. I also will probably not be staying in Juticalpa, but rather a smaller community 2 hours from Juticalpa where most of the MAO staff, and the LWF staff lives. Sandra said it is very small, but also that it has apartments, restaurants, and a hotel, so I am not sure what very small means to her...we will see. I dont have any problems with living in a smaller community, especially if it means not having a 4 hour round trip commute and actually being close to the people I will be working with.

I have always been a sink or swim kind of person, and I'm hoping this will be no different. Im trying my best to learn Spanish with the help of Sandra, but I know my time here is very limited, and soon I will be in a community where no one knows any English, and it will be my time to...sink...or swim. I think it's kind of funny how scared I was before coming here. In Houston I almost turned around (well not really...but I was very nervous), but once I arrived I felt calm, and I finally felt like I was supposed to come here. I'm not saying I think it will be a walk in the park or even easy, in fact I realize it is going to be very very hard, but I am hoping I can meet these challenges with determination, courage, and strength. Anyways, I think I will walk down the street to get something to eat (Pupusas maybe!) before I try to translate some more things, and then give my brain a much needed rest!

Con Esperanza y Amor
Delaney C.